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What’s Old is New Again: How SCOUT is Leaning Into Old-School Methods to Harness the Power of Authenticity and Connection

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Knowing your customer is the obvious first step to creating and selling products. But there are still companies that lose sight of who they should be targeting, where, and with what kind of content.

SCOUT is not one of those brands. 

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Deb Waterman Johns, the Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at SCOUT, took us behind the scenes of what it’s like to build a brand that is all about authenticity in its products, its partnerships, and its marketing efforts. Deb explains what it takes to not get pigeonholed in a certain category or vertical, and also talks us through why retail partnerships are going to be important to ecommerce brands in the years to come. Plus, she highlights how whats old is new again, not only in the world of fashion, but business too, and how their team is leaning back into some “old school” tactics to really connect with their customers in the most authentic way.  And because she has been a color consultant to some of the largest brands, I had her reveal what color palettes are going to be trending in the upcoming year.

Main Takeaways:

  • Don’t Get Pigeonholed: Sometimes a product can be labeled as one thing and then excluded from all other categories. For example, a bag that’s seen as a gift is not often also identified as a piece of fashion. It takes strategizing to market and display your products in a way that avoids that outcome and allows you to reach all kinds of buyers. 
  • Remember Your Day-1s: Although the move to ecommerce is in full force, it’s important to remember that there were brick-and-mortar stores that supported and and carried your brands from the beginning. Retail locations and ecommerce brands have benefitted from strong partnerships since Day 1,and those are relationships that should be nurtured and leveraged to maintain contact with all kinds of customers.The benefit from ecommerce and retail partnerships exists within the opportunity to promote new and different products and build excitement with customers in person and give them more value every time they shop. 
  • Getting Down To What’s Real: Authenticity has never been more imperative than when it comes to marketing and product development. The brands that ditch the high-gloss photoshoots and invest in more real-life, everyday content are experiencing higher levels of engagement. The same can be said for the brands that take the time to get to know their customers on a real, deep level. Understanding who you are talking to, what they like, and what resonates most with them is critical to creating content that lands and converts. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“The world of fashion and home and any kind of design works in cycles, and everything old is new again with a new twist. And so, what really happens in the world of forecasting is there is analysis, very rigorous analysis of what has happened in the past, what is culturally starting to percolate again in music, in theater, in movies, in food. All of that informs where trending will ultimately land.” 

“Sometimes you are put into a silo of gift or fashion, and we really had to strategize as to how we would accomplish both. Many of our stores initially were single or small groups of really wonderfully run gift types of stores. And so, we had to say, ‘Yes, but we can fit in your fashion area,’ because there’s so much cross-pollination now between accessory stores, gift stores, fashion stores, home stores, that it’s exciting because our bags can sit in so many areas of that store. So we just did a lot of messaging around the versatility and the flexibility of what we were doing.”

“We’ve really delved heavily into who is our customer. We’ve done the due diligence of understanding who she is, what her lifestyle is, where she shops, how she shops, and all of that has given us much more fuel to create a product that is directly speaking to her. But we also know that some customers really that aren’t familiar with our brand are going to want to see it. They’re going to want to touch it. They’re going to want to access it in a way that the internet might not [allow]. And so, we really feel that there are going to be some tactics that are almost old school mixed with new school, because as much as we see retail shifting and customer outreach shifting, because the internet is so critical to that support, it’s not enough.”

“What we’ve been told over and over again, when we were beginning our businesses, don’t get in the situation where the demand is more than the supply, because that can actually vary somewhat. So we’ve been very, very careful to align with situations that we know we can support product wise.”

“A lot of ecommerce businesses went to brick and mortar pop-ups. That also generates excitement. And within our store, we will feature not only SCOUT, but we will feature a periodic variety of products that women might be excited about. It might be great jewelry. It might be gently-worn fabulous fashion, that kind of thing. So that will be exciting. We already do pop-ups in stores, or do evenings where we meet and greet customers. We haven’t been able to do that as much during COVID, but we really want to go back to that, because meeting the actual customer, working in a store that has been so loyal and supportive and excited about the product, all of that is critically important to the dynamic that needs to be maintained.”

“We love getting different types of customers in, a wide array of ages, backgrounds, to come in and interface with the product and really tell us what they think. What we’ve learned over the years is that customers love to be asked. Loyal customers want to be asked for their opinion, and they get really excited if you act on some of that great information.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

 

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello, and welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at mission.org. Today on the show, we have Deb Waterman Johns who currently serves as the Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of SCOUT. Deb, welcome to the show.

Deb:

Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Stephanie:

I’m really excited to have you on as well. To get started, I would love to first hear about your background in the world of design and creativity, because you have a really cool background. I was hoping we could highlight that first before we get into SCOUT Bags.

Deb:

Sure. I think it started… I moved all over the country as a kid with my father’s job taking us everywhere, from the West Coast to the East Coast. Landed in Pittsburgh where I was able to take incredible art classes, as well as in those days you had to take sewing in home economics in the seventh grade. I actually loved it because I realized something that I drew, I could actually turn into something that I could wear. So my love for fashion started very young.

Deb:

I started using it to design costumes for local theater, and as I navigated my collegiate choices, Cornell University had an incredible design department, very small, very dedicated, where we actually spent a semester in New York City working for a company. I worked for McCall’s Patterns in those days and was able to meet all of the folks over at Conde Nast. One of the editors expressed interest in my working at Vogue.

Deb:

And so, it was launching my career as an assistant editor at Vogue Magazine, which was terribly exciting. It was in an era where everything was bigger and better and no holds barred. It was the Wolf of Wall Street meets the Devil Wears Prada. So that’s the story.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Deb:

By the way, it’s only half the story. Believe me. But at the end of the day, that launched me into really being excited about fabrics, colors, patterns. I went to a small accessory company in Dallas, Texas, but lived in New York, and was their sourcing and development person. When they wanted me to move to Texas, in those days Texas was a little bit different than it is today, and I really wanted to stay in Manhattan.

Deb:

So I went to work for incredible trend forecasting service, which talked about color, and pattern, and trending in the fashion world for customers all over the globe. Certainly was before internet. Was before anything was able to happen very quickly. So that was incredible environment. Then I found myself in Washington DC, and it was unlikely being in fashion or in trending in Washington DC, but I looked at it more as the glass half full, ultimately, as being someone that wasn’t the norm in Washington.

Deb:

There was a need. There were a lot of incredible women pursuing incredible career paths who needed advice on what they should wear, how they should put things together. I started little pop-up shops for women in Washington with various partners from Paris and from New York. As I was doing that, I discovered I was sitting on some international colored pencils and I discovered a bag over in Milan that was very expensive and very beautiful, but it was made out of an unlikely material.

Deb:

I had just purchased some of those bags at Pearl River Mart in Manhattan, the same material for $3.25, and this bag happened to be $450. What we learned in the world of trending is that influences start at the top and the bottom and meet in the middle for most of the population. So I talked about it with my husband who’s been in the manufacturing business for years in the gift world, and we launched our company, SCOUT, identifying big bags, versatile bags, really great value, lightweight and fun for women navigating their multi-faceted lives.

Stephanie:

Wow. I mean, that’s crazy to think about a $3 bag selling for $400 plus. Man, I want to hear… Go back a bit to the trend forecasting and the color forecasting, because I’m thinking about that and even doing that with the internet. Sounds hard. It sounds like there’s a lot of noise and people like so many different things. How did you think about figuring out back then what’s trending and what colors would work? Even now, how do you go about doing that?

Deb:

Well, I think we know that the world of fashion and home and any kind of design works in cycles, and everything old is new again with a new twist. And so, what really happens in the world of forecasting is there is analysis, very rigorous analysis of what has happened in the past, what is culturally starting to percolate again, in music, in theater, in movies, in food. All of that informs where trending will ultimately land.

Deb:

So right now we’re definitely experiencing, oh, a revival of boho and really feminine, but we’re also experiencing an incredible influence from utility fashion, because people are very concerned about things lasting longer and being well-made. We analyze all of that and really there’s a gut check as to what colors feel like they’re fresh again, compared to maybe where we have recently been. We do a tremendous amount of analysis about what customers have purchased, and look at the high and the low about things that are just starting to get interest and maybe things that are waning.

Deb:

So there’s a lot of information. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to identify where the newness is, based on where there’s some familiarity and where there’s a brand new complexion going on.

Stephanie:

That’s very cool. Are there any surprising trends right now that you all see bubbling up, that you’re like, “It might seem crazy. However, we think people are going to want this”?

Deb:

Well, I think what’s really bubbling up is that as people re-emerge in their worlds, they want to look pretty again. I think that a lot of us have been posting, as we have been navigating what’s next, where we’ll be in offices, where we’ll be socializing, going to weddings, going to events. And so, I think there’s a pretty but more practical thing going on. It’s not going to be as much of a costume as it’s going to be something that is beautiful, irresistible color and fabric that makes you absolutely want to have it immediately. So it’s almost like a sensory reaction.

Deb:

Someone just came out with these amazing dresses with tool on top of just simple cotton poplin. It’s the tool that makes you just want to literally put on a crown and like walk around and go somewhere fabulous. So I think there are things that are going to happen that inspire us in ways we haven’t seen in a while. But I think that people are also getting practical about what they purchase. I think what’s surprising is you’re going to see utility and femininity really merge in very creative ways.

Stephanie:

I love that. All right. To get back to the pop-up shops and the $3 bag. You have this amazing idea, aha moment, like, “What is going on? We need to capitalize on this right now.” What were the next steps to get SCOUT off the ground?

Deb:

Well, the next steps were identifying who could help us manufacturing this type of bag. My husband knew a tremendous amount of people in the world of manufacturing, and we knew that this fabric was out of China. We established a great relationship with a group in China. We still are working with those folks today, small family owned factories. They take great care of their employees and they take wonderful care of us. They’re great team players.

Deb:

We had to identify manufacturing, obviously. We had to identify, is there even an interest in this? We picked a simple color in white check in six colors, in a big, bold scale. We made about five styles. We made a bunch of bags and showed up at the Atlanta and New York gift shows. Created great displays because we thought we at least need to get some attention, just be the loud one in the room, just to get some reactions.

Stephanie:

What did it look like? Like what was part of the crazy display?

Deb:

Well, we had two incredible in-house artists, and one of them, I said, “Listen, I would love to have a giant wall covering of an Airstream with that casual lifestyle.” Then we did an entire wall of our bags, just stacked, from [inaudible], in orange white, pink white, green, blue, really just dynamic. And you couldn’t look away. Whether you liked it or not, you were going to get a reaction. I think that was our initial thought, was let’s get a reaction.

Deb:

Then we went to the New York gift show. We did this crazy house that looked like it was made out of the material, and everything in it was made out of the material. I had a hot glue gun in my hand for two weeks. Again, we won awards for just the feel and look of our display. So we thought, all right, you know what? Let’s separate that reaction from what people actually want to buy. We were able to reach, through those shows, a lot of positivity and people that really wanted to step up and purchase.

Deb:

We also knew that this particular fabric was really, really attainable in terms of manufacturing, as well as price. And so, we were not going to be going in at a very, very high price point. In fact, we were going in at a very reasonable price point and the fabric is weightless. It has almost no way to attach to it. So we knew we could pack lots of stuff, which I’m a staff person, into bags.

Deb:

I had four kids in six years. And in that time, it was just literally buckle up, here we go. You’ve got to put stuff in stuff and you’ve got to get it to where you need to go. We thought our bags would do that job, especially because they are wipeable and they are incredibly versatile for a lot of different uses.

Stephanie:

That’s great. I think I need many of these bags. I have three kids and I feel you. I’m always just looking around like, “Okay, who has extra room in their backpack? Where can I stuff things?” I mean, especially when traveling, it’s intense. Who were some of your first buyers, if you remember, that were at that show?

Deb:

Well, I remember that at those shows, the Atlanta show tends to attract a lot of the Southern beachy type accounts. We had some wonderful reaction initially from stores that were located at beaches, because they were so interested in bags that could be shaken out with sand, wiped off, and just not disposable because they don’t break down that easily, but also just really vibrant and fun. Our initial customers, so many were from the Eastern seaboard, many, many in resort areas because they valued the scale of the bags, as well as the colors of the bags.

Deb:

We also had some incredible interaction initially with Hallmark stores. There were tremendous amount of Hallmark stores that were actually gift stores, that wanted our bags, because, again, they had the space. Our bags are small to big and the big ones are big. They could fit probably your three small children right in there. And so, you need places that have the ability to open them up and have that spatial awareness. Our very first customers were many from those coastal areas, particularly on the East Coast.

Stephanie:

Was there any reworking of messaging you had to do after getting into gift shops, and everyone starts maybe thinking like, “Oh, this is the brand that’s in gift shops,” versus, “No, this is also a very trendy bag that very famous people also have. It’s not just a gift shop bag”?

Deb:

That’s a great question because sometimes you are put into a silo of gift or fashion, and we really had to strategize as to how we would accomplish both. Many of our stores initially were single or small groups of really wonderfully run gift types of stores. And so, we had to say, “Yes, but we can fit in your fashion area,” because there’s so much cross-pollination now between accessory stores, gift stores, fashion stores, home stores, that it’s exciting because our bags can sit in so many areas of that store. So I think we just did a lot of messaging around the versatility and the flexibility of what we were doing.

Stephanie:

Got it. Got it. That’s great. Now, thinking there’s probably not as many shows going on in person, a lot of brands are just going straight direct to consumer, launching maybe not even with a website, some of them just launching on Instagram, how are you all thinking about getting in front of new audiences now?

Deb:

We’re looking back and saying, “We think we need to go on the road again.” We think we need to go to some of these incredible communities, particularly in the summer, and show our wares in ways where we can get great public feedback. The exciting thing that we’re doing is we’ve really delved heavily into who is our customer. We’ve done the due diligence of understanding who she is, what her lifestyle is, where she shops, how she shops, and all of that has given us much more fuel to create product that is directly speaking to her.

Deb:

But we also know that some customers really that aren’t familiar with our brand are going to want to see it. They’re going to want to touch it. They’re going to want to access it in a way that the internet might not. And so, we really feel that there are going to be some tactics that are almost old school mixed with new school, because as much as we see retail shifting and customer outreach shifting, because the internet is so critical to that support, it’s not enough.

Deb:

It’s not enough for the people that want that face-to-face interaction, and your enthusiasm as a company will encourage their enthusiasm as a consumer. Years ago when I was on QVC, the big message and that training is amazing. I mean, it’s like nine hours and they just literally you’re in or you’re out. But you learn.

Stephanie:

Oh, tell me about it. I don’t think I’ve had many people who’ve been on QVC. Tell me what the behind the scenes looks like there.

Deb:

Well, you present your product, they accept you or they don’t. Then you go through eight hours of rigorous training and being in front of the camera, just off the bat. One of the women wasn’t really convinced that our bags would be that exciting on QVC. That or she wanted to be the next host and she just wasn’t interested. Who knows? But we had to stand in front of the camera very off the cuff and just talk about for one minute why our product.

Deb:

I was with about a dozen other people that were doing everything from cupcakes to screens that cover your windshield. We were a variety of people. And so, I think I was one of the last to go and I just picked up about 20 of our bags, put every one of them over my shoulder and I said, “All right. Ladies, listen, every chick I know loves bags as much as she loves shoes. So how can we not be excited about bags in every color, every size? They’re weightless.” They just were like, “Oh, okay.”

Deb:

So I went on QVC for a number of times. One thing that you really, really are told with QVC is that the host is the seller. You are the product expert. So when someone says to me, “Do you want to talk about your product, interview, or whatever, I have to be the most authentic speaker about SCOUT because it did come from us and it is still coming from us as a team.

Deb:

And so, what was exciting about that, saying that, was just made you realize you are the person that’s going to be talking about the actual product and they’re going to be talking to their customers and saying, “Okay guys, this is why you need this product.” So it was a really dynamic learning experience, and I really was excited to be able to go through that.

Stephanie:

It’s cool. I mean, I’m imagining peaks and surges of demand, or are there any points where you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, too much. Can’t handle it.”

Deb:

Well, what you have to do is carefully plan. We’ve also been on Deals and Steals. You’ve obviously got to carefully plan and manage expectations around what that platform is telling you They will need to back up the audience. I mean, I think we were on for something like seven minutes and we nearly sold out. That was fine because that was what we were supposed to do.

Deb:

And so, I think that what we’ve been told over and over again, when we were beginning our businesses, don’t get in the situation where the demand is more than the supply, because that can actually vary somewhat. So we’ve been very, very careful to align with situations that we know we can support product wise. Obviously, because the product comes out of China and now that there’s a such a different kind of shipping situation and all of that, you really do have to say yes to opportunity that you know you can’t fulfill. That’s really important.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. Getting back to the old school and new school marketing tactics, what are you all thinking there? Are you bringing back the pop-up stores or what are you thinking going forward?

Deb:

Well, we will ultimately have a headquarter storefront here in Washington DC, which will be a really great almost laboratory for our product. There is no store in Georgetown that has the product. So we would be excited to be able to showcase that and also really learn from customer reaction. So that’s a little old school in terms of brick and mortars are not what everybody is doing.

Deb:

But we’ve heard certainly about many e-commerce businesses that versus a Bleecker Street, New York, a couple of years ago. A lot of e-commerce businesses went to brick and mortar pop-ups. That also generates excitement. And within our store, we will feature not only SCOUT, but we will feature a periodic variety of product that women might be excited about. It might be great jewelry. It might be gently worn fabulous fashion, that kind of thing. So that will be exciting.

Deb:

We already do pop-ups in stores, or do almost evenings where we meet and greet customers. We haven’t been able to do that as much during COVID, but we really want to go back to that, because meeting the actual customer, working in a store that has been so loyal and supportive and excited about the product, all of that is critically important to dynamic that needs to be maintained. So going back to some of that we hope will be possible in the near future.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I mean, I can imagine there’s so many secrets by partnering with those stores and having the customers come in and just getting that interaction. How do you go about gaining those insights, especially if you have multiple pop-ups happening or partnerships happening. How do you make sure that you’re actually capturing customer insights and hearing what they’re saying and then bringing it back in-house and actually learning from it?

Deb:

Well, one great thing is that we have what we call destination stores, and those are stores that have been really dedicated to SCOUT over the years and have given us enough of their real estate within their stores to feature SCOUT in a meaningful way. Those are very, very important personal relationships that we have, and we look to them to often give feedback from their customer base.

Deb:

The other thing we do is we do surveys to our e-commerce customers that ask for their opinions about color, pattern, product, price points, types of bags, types of lifestyle extensions. And so, those are really important as well. We hope we can get back to, again, the old school way is focus groups. We love focus groups. We love getting different types of customers in, wide array of ages, backgrounds, to come in and interface with the product and really tell us what they think.

Deb:

What we’ve learned over the years is customers love to be asked. Loyal customers want to be asked for their opinion, and they get really excited if you act on some of that great information. And so, we also do a lot of outreach socially. I just did a thing called The Bolt where I went back into some of my own personal SCOUT product from as far back as 15 years ago and put together little giveaway packages, and people got so excited because people remembered the patterns. It’s far enough back, but it’s close enough in that there is a memory of that product.

Deb:

So we’re really trying to engage people on all different levels and listen to what they want. We actually showed a lot of older product in our Instagram flurry during COVID. We got such a strong reaction to our 12, our Beach 12, that we brought it back in three different ways and people have bought it like crazy. So listening to that customer, letting them know that that actually will inform how you evolve your line is so important.

Stephanie:

I love that. Yeah. It’s a cool way to think about keeping your like products evergreen in a way where it’s like you can always maybe bring them back. You just might need a few years and then highlight them again. Like you said, what’s old is new again.

Stephanie:

The other thing I love about your brand is the authenticity behind the marketing. I know over this last year, you made a pivot to creating at home content. I wanted to hear your thoughts behind that and what works, what didn’t work.

Deb:

Okay. Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think in March, as we all started realizing this was happening and we didn’t know how long it was going to last, I talked to the team members that work on social and I said, “Look, there is no bar low enough. We will do whatever it takes to keep our awesome customers engaged. People need distraction. They need to laugh. They need information. They need community.

Deb:

As I watched Jimmy Fallon’s kid climbing all over his head on national television, I realized honestly, really, whatever. At that time, all four of my adult kids were actually living at the house at the very early stages of the pandemic. I had chief talent to tap into and I basically didn’t ask. It was like, “Here’s what we’re doing today.” And they were like, “Oh God, please.” But what was great was it really was truly our family, our family just reacting to crazy questions, our family interacting in fun ways.

Deb:

Even did a mask fashion show. I said, “Okay, here’s what you’re wearing. Here’s what’s you’re modeling.” They’re like, “Okay, here we go.” So I think the fact that we were willing to be a little bit crazy ourselves or a little bit foolish ourselves, it made people just have fun with it. We didn’t take it very seriously, but we also knew that people needed that levity out there. And so, we looked at different ways that we could add value to that pool of just, “We’re here. We’re having fun in spite of all the work everyone is dealing with.”

Deb:

That really tended to get very positive reaction. Of course, now my team thinks it’s still game on. And so, they’re like, every week, “Okay. Okay. Can we do this? Let’s do TikTok fashion reels. Let’s do new Instagram reels about Behind The Design.” Obviously, the blog has been very important, but we are seeing also an uptick in Pinterest again. So we’ve got re-involved in Pinterest. All of those portals are ways that we can reach really important people to the SCOUT brand.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Are you allowing your employees to also just create their own stuff and then post it, or what does the creativity process look like behind the scenes to make good content?

Deb:

Yeah. We have great creative minds here, and so many of our team members did cribs. They photographed their homes during that time and just volunteered and so happy to do it. Some were living in their parents’ homes. Some were living independently, all varieties of themes. But we absolutely encourage it. We often will do segments of employees’ favorite bags, days at the beach. We have been on location many times with our shoots, but in the last two years, we have used my backyard for four seasons of SCOUT.

Deb:

We’ve created every season in my yard, as well as in the office in the studio. So we’re really excited when team members take our product on a beach trip or on a city trip or anywhere that they can take great photographs. With these awesome iPhones these days, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the beautiful photography that our in-house photographer does, she’s a total pro, and just throwing in a couple of personally taken evictions. We meet as a team to discuss what we will be doing going forward, usually every week. But we also really invite team members to offer suggestions and ideas.

Stephanie:

I love it. Are there any channels that you’re bullish on right now? You mentioned that you were on TikTok and doing Instagram. What are your favorite channels to be able to find new audiences or interact with your current ones?

Deb:

Well, our current customer base is really that balance or an achiever mom as well as the zoomer. The balance or an achiever mom still uses Facebook a great deal. And so, we are continuing to do Facebook. We know that there is growth in Instagram, but it’s more reels than it is stills. So we’re trying to pivot to that. We also know there’s a lot of paid social going through. As we all look at our accounts, we’re seeing much more of that. And so, that’s still a very important…

Deb:

Pinterest is definitely one that we believe, because it is so visual, that our imagery belongs with Pinterest. It really aligns with the way that Pinterest works. I was recently on this great site called Homeworthy. An awesome friend of ours from Georgetown has moved to New York. She was an ABC producer, is now doing this thing where she goes into people’s homes and apartments and takes these beautiful pictures. She really has said how important TikTok is to her business. And so, we’re working on that algorithm to really understand what for SCOUT resonates in that TikTok realm. So continuing to just navigate.

Deb:

I mean, Twitter is probably not as important to us unless there’s an event. If there is a giveaway or there is something that is spontaneous or just elevated, we’ll go on Twitter and talk about it. But maintaining all of those platforms is so critically important right now.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, everyone, you have to have, I would say, different messaging depending on your audience. It also seems like there’s a whole world that’s going to be coming soon around like virtual fashion shows and being able to showcase your product and VR and being able to showcase all your guys’ designs and stuff, and even having your virtual pop-ups and crazy designs. I mean, I can just imagine a place where your brand would be perfect there to be able interact with it and walk around and see the things that you’ve designed.

Deb:

Yeah. You’re absolutely right. If we’re looking at doing some kind of a YouTube situation more and more, because I think, again, a lot of it is when you have people… I had a woman walk up to me in a store. We were recently on a family vacation, and she walked up to me in a store and she said, “You’re Deb from SCOUT, aren’t you?” And I said, “Whoa, okay. Yeah, I am. And I appreciate you saying something.” She said, “Your social got me through the pandemic.” She said, “I was so excited every day to look and see what SCOUT was willing to do to keep people laughing and excited.”

Deb:

So we do know that our messaging is getting out there, and we know that authentically, you’re not going to please everyone. But if you can tap into what your true customers are looking for from you, then I think it’s a win.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah. I agree. I think all the customers now definitely are looking for that authenticity, and does this person feel like… Are they funny? Can they make me laugh?

Deb:

Right.

Stephanie:

Tell me a bit about your philanthropic side. I saw you guys do quite a bit there, and I wanted to hear how that giving back also elevate your business and how you think through that.

Deb:

Well, from a very young age, my family, we really talked about, was taught to think about giving back. Even if you didn’t have a lot, you could give your time. When I first landed in New York City at Vogue, I realized Vogue was this incredible opportunity for me professionally, but I was missing that give back. So I became a swim coach at a local boys and girls club. It was when women seldom set foot in those domains and I’ve learnt so much from those kids.

Deb:

As I got to Washington DC, and there’s so many incredible organizations out there that are worthy of support and donation, but our middle son, Bo, got childhood large B-cell lymphoma when he was 11 years old. We found ourselves in a position to be able to literally walk down the street to go to Georgetown Hospital. We’re very fortunate in that respect and noticed that there were a lot of kids who had no one around all week who were by themselves.

Deb:

We asked a lot of questions to the social workers at the hospital who assess your financial abilities. We were told that many of those kids really didn’t have the means to have their parents or family there except maybe on weekends. So we had a group of friends ask what they could do to support Bo. We said, “Look, let’s raise money for these kids.” And so, it went into a relief fund at Georgetown. They had never had more than a thousand dollars in that fund, but we’ve raised over three quarters of a million dollars over the last 15 years.

Stephanie:

Oh.

Deb:

We generally do it by having theme parties every year, the first Friday after labor day. Unfortunately this year, as well as last, we just cannot do it because we know that this COVID, situation is not really manageable at this point for that… We usually get four to 500 people and that’s certainly not the right thing to do. But what was incredible was last year, we pivoted and we did a retrospective GO BO fashion show with all the family of the costumes throughout the years. We were able to raise the same amount of money that we would have with a party. So we’re hoping-

Stephanie:

Wow.

Deb:

… to do a similar thing this year. It goes to pay for things that are generally out of pocket for families. We just assume that every family can afford groceries if their kid is having treatment, that they can afford a taxi ride to the hospital late at night, that they can afford frankly even helping with therapy or unfortunately funeral arrangements. So our fund has helped families feel that there’s a little slush of funding that helps them.

Deb:

The other big effort that we do, and by the way, SCOUT gets very involved in this. We do bags for it. The whole team gets involved. Everybody comes, everybody supports it, spreads the word. So it’s definitely very much a SCOUT effort as well as a Johns’ family effort. But the other thing that what I call Santa’s Helpers. We help underserved families in the Washington DC area. We pretend that we are Santa. The letters come through my fax machine of all things. They have for the last 25 years. They used to come through the post office until Anthrax shut it down right before Christmas.

Deb:

So I called 200 families and said, “Look, if you send me a Santa’s letter through my fax before Thanksgiving, we will get you help.” This is all a group of my incredible friends and family and SCOUT team that shop, wrap, and deliver for hundreds of families every season. It makes us all feel like there’s just a little special day in a kid’s life. Again, we put a lot of product in SCOUT bags. We know that families in those situations are often nomadic and they need to move their stuff. So if we can provide big bags and put our things in them, that’s another layer of support.

Deb:

We as a company support many other efforts including a Shelter A Dog, a wonderful outreach groups that support dogs coming out of kill shelters and finding homes for them. As well as we support Comfort Cases, which is foster children who often arrive at their destination with a trash bag with their belongings. That’s not good enough. So we provide many bags to that incredible organization. Then we continue to support Georgetown Hospital in any way that we can, providing Valentine’s Day goody bags, Halloween goody bags, Easter goody bags for the nurses and the pediatric oncology kids.

Deb:

We live in a big city with a lot of need and we have resources. And so, we also like grassroots organizations, organizations that really do benefit from smaller gifts in kind, as well as time. So that’s something that we really gravitate toward.

Stephanie:

Wow. I love that. I mean, so inspiring, and just thinking about instilling that in the culture from the very beginning, I mean, what kind of employee retention and excitement are you going to have and keep by all working on something together? I mean, that’s amazing. So kudos to you all.

Deb:

Thank you. The other thing we are doing, just this year, and then continuing going forward, we’ve had a pink and white checkered pattern in our line called Victoria Checkham. We actually had David Checkham, Barnaby Checkham. We had the Checkham family, and we are actually dedicating portion of the proceeds going forward to breast cancer. We have changed the logo on that particular pattern bag with the SCOUT having a little pink scarf around his neck.

Deb:

That bag will now be featured beginning in October as something that will raise awareness as well as funding for breast cancer. Of course, anything that is close to women and supporting women is perfectly important to us.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love it. It’s awesome. What’s next for SCOUT? What are you guys planning over the next couple of years? I know before the interview, you mentioned 10 years.

Deb:

Oh, yep. Exactly.

Stephanie:

What are you prepping for?

Deb:

Well, we just finished our three-year plan. We had a big reveal in late June, early July, and our team, everybody contributed to it. Wasn’t like the executive team said, “This is what we’re going to do in the next three years.” Every team had a voice in what that three-year plan was going to look like. A lot of it will have to do with the following. Number one, we do know that so many of our customers look to us for beach support for when they travel, when they go to the beach, when they are near lakes, rivers, pools, and oceans.

Deb:

Our bags, as well as lifestyle extensions, will be something that we’re going to look at more critically than get done, beach towels. But we want to continue to look at what else we could do along with our products that we’re currently doing, that will support that destination customer need. We also know that many of our customers are young mothers, and we want to look more critically at how we could partner with the baby and toddler resources with our bags as something that will be really exciting and effective.

Deb:

We also know that our storage pieces, as well as our very large bags, have been really popular during the pandemic where people have been moving around or needed to store things. It may be a home office or in a space that was a kid’s playroom and is now your home office. So a lot of that product will be looked at more critically and extended. We are also really excited about a lot of the co-branding and collaboration and licensing situations we’re getting into with various partners.

Deb:

We really from candles, to bed linens, to hair accessories, all things that can live with our pattern on that, and really feel like we’re supporting that lifestyle authentic brand that is SCOUT. Those are the things that we’re really, really looking forward to. We’ve recently hired a number of truly dynamic leadership leaders in the world of fashion and gift to support many of our younger team members in their growth and in their education about the world of business.

Deb:

So it’s really a dynamic of many team members who have been with us and continue to grow and move in our organization. But also bringing additional folks who have had great experiences on the outside, that we can all learn from. That’s what we’re very, very excited about as well.

Stephanie:

It’s amazing. I cannot wait to watch you guys continue to grow and scale and change the world. That’s awesome. All right, well, let’s shift over to the lightning round. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce commerce cloud. This is where I ask a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Deb?

Deb:

I’m ready. Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

All right. First up, what is the best advice you’ve ever received in business?

Deb:

I think the best advice I ever received in business was, number one, life is not black and white. There’s lots of shades of gray. That’s really important. The other was from a very successful entrepreneur who said, “You can’t just have a plan B, you also need a plan C.” And in this time, we’ve used that plan C a number of times.

Stephanie:

Yep. Love it. If you were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Deb:

I think if I had a podcast, it would definitely be about women and our wild and crazy lives. I would probably have someone like my friend, Denise Austin, who’s just this incredible exercise entrepreneur who just has energy out the wazoo because she’s also a mother and a great business woman.

Stephanie:

That sounds great. I would listen to that for sure. There’s a lot of wild women. I want to learn from them all.

Deb:

Exactly. Exactly.

Stephanie:

What is one thing you don’t understand today, but you wish you did?

Deb:

I think what I don’t understand today is when people look at the glass half empty. There is so much in life worth looking at as the glass half full. I hope that everyone finds a passion and a purpose that allows them to see the glass half full.

Stephanie:

I love that. I agree. All right. The last one, what color are you betting on for the upcoming year? What’s the color we [crosstalk] wearing?

Deb:

Other than black, which is my favorite. I love black.

Stephanie:

Black.

Deb:

I think that we are going to be seeing more shades of blue that are really soothing, as well as incredibly captivating. Blues that maybe you can’t even name easily. But blue is something that people feel is refreshing. On the other side of the spectrum, touches of yellow, which scares the heck out of people, but you’re wearing it well.

Stephanie:

Hey.

Deb:

I will say it is an activator and a very exciting color.

Stephanie:

Oh, I love it. All right. My whole wardrobe, blues and yellows.

Deb:

There you go.

Stephanie:

All right, Deb. Well, it’s been awesome having you on the show and learning all about SCOUT. Where can people find out more about you and SCOUT Bags?

Deb:

Well, scoutbags.com. We have a wonderful website, and obviously all of our Instagram and Facebook handles can be accessed through the sites. You’ll see all of that. We’re really excited to be with you today and to hopefully spread the SCOUT love even further.

Stephanie:

Yes. Love it. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

Deb:

Thank you. Likewise.

Episode 136